Customer Engagement

Direct Mail Grows In Defiance Of “Print Is Dead”

Despite all the talk about marketing via social networks, mobile marketing and digital display, the ‘traditional’ consistently performing channel – good old direct mail – continues to grow.   While mass mailings of the 1980’s and 1990’s have diminished (I still recall the days when we would print more than 10,000,000 mail pieces for some of CGSM’s clients), 1:1 print marketing has flourished.

How can this be?   Weren’t digital advertising and social media going to be the death of direct mail?   To paraphrase Mark Twain – ‘Rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated’.    Winterberry Group’s Bruce Biegel recently reported that in 2010 direct mail spending in the United States was $ 45.2 billion.  More than any other single direct response channel.

The primary reason direct mail is growing once again is that it works.   There were declines in 2007, 2008 and 2009 due to economic concerns and the general business climate.  But the fact is that people trust direct mail more than online offers.   Highly targeted direct mail via the use of sophisticated personalization resonates with consumers.     There is also a perception (correct I might add) that direct mail requires a greater investment on the part of the marketer when compared to digital marketing techniques such as display or email marketing.

There are initiatives floating around the U.S. Congress such as ‘Do Not Mail’ and ‘Do Not Track’.   The ‘Do Not Mail’ initiatives stem from the perception that trees are being harvested to send people mail they would rather not receive.   The Direct Mail industry has to do a better job of adopting consumer choice initiatives in order to not send people mail who do not want to receive marketing messages.

As for ‘Do Not Track’, clearly people have privacy concerns when it comes to the use of their personal data for marketing purposes.    The digital marketing community also has work to do in order to educate and assure people that individual behavioral and purchasing data is not being passed around from marketer to marketer.    This debate has supplanted the ‘Do Not Mail’ debate in Congress which is yet another advantage for direct mail marketing.

Customer prospecting via direct mail remains challenging but not impossible.  Financial institutions like banks and insurance companies continue to refine their efforts to acquire new customers through direct mail.    And direct mail as a contact management strategy is an extremely effective tool to build a relationship and move an identified prospect to becoming a customer.

I still look at the mail every day that I am home to see what we’ve been sent.   Yes some of it is not relevant to me but it might be to other members in my family.  We only have one mailbox after all, unlike email, text or mobile messages.

So don’t abandon all your direct mail efforts for the hot new channels of today.   While social media marketing, digital display, search engine marketing, mobile marketing and word-of-mouth marketing are all great new channels, tried and true direct mail should be an integral part of your marketing toolkit.

Do you look at the mail as soon as it arrives?   Do you like receiving mail?

Category: Customer Engagement

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About the Author: Mark Kolier

A member of Vistage for more than five years Mark is a partner in a new agency micro-network concept called With a particular expertise in direct and digital marketing, Mark has served both business-to-business and busine

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  2. I think this is a perfect case of “you can tell any story you want with statistics” fits this quite well. Forget someone’s report – gather a room of CEOs and ask them one simple question, “How many of you are getting a better return from your direct mail campaigns today than you got over the past several years?” I ask this question in the speeches I give to CEOs and Business Owners and could count on one hand those that say yes.

    I have to vehemently disagree that the audience is more drawn to direct mail than in the past. Simple issue, everyone has less time today than ever before – more demands and many more choices of ways to get information. With all this happening and information at their fingertips through social media, search engines, mobile apps, etc., who has the time to go through their mail to see if there is an interesting offer waiting for them? The leaders I talk to say it goes from mailbox to recycle bin – never to be opened.

    So let me be the first to weigh in that most of the reason traditional media, like direct mail, is still even as alive as it is is because of more traditional management that is reluctant to change and so they hang on to the past. The tools today are faster, cheaper, and create much stronger relationships than any traditional direct mail campaign can compete with. If you don’t agree, let’s start a lively discussion…would be fun!


    • Brian Wheeler

      June 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      In reference to your direct mail comments I would value your opinion on using direct mail for health messaging from a non profit organization. Non profit health organizations cannot rely on the public to be using websites and facebook to educate. The public will come to the websites when they are in direct need of information. We need to educate before they actually require our help to maximize our ability for prevention of disease. Do you think we are wasting our money on direct mail and what is our best source for impacting our audience. Our target is approximately 2 million and evenly split between urban and rural areas, over 2 thousand square miles.


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